The Common Law

Mechanics' liens and repair shop repossession?

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Cars – Mechanics' Liens and Repair Shop Repossession?

I'm in a serious fight with my mechanic over the final cost he is charging me for repairs. He says he can keep my car until I pay the full amount. Can he really do that?

Yes. Your mechanic has the legal right to keep your car until you pay the entire repair bill. This is referred to as a mechanic's lien or garageman's lien, which basically secures payment to the repair shop for the repairs that have been provided. The repair shop can keep your car even when you disagree with the final bill, which usually happens in situations where the final bill is significantly higher than the initial estimate. In that situation, you should clearly express your disagreement with the cost and ask the repair shop to write out the specific reasons for the difference in cost. If you still cannot come to a compromise, you may want to consider paying the entire bill in order to get your car back. If you do pay the entire bill, be sure to save all the relevant paperwork in case you decide to file a complaint or bring a claim in small claims court.

My car repair shop agreed to let me pay the $1,000 I owe for repairs in $100-per-month installments. I have not made the last two payments and now the owner is threatening to repossess the car. Can he legally do that?

Yes. Your repair shop takes a lien on your car whenever repairs are made to the car. This means that the repair shop does not have to give the car back to you if you have not paid for the repairs. It also has the right to repossess the car if you default on payments for the repairs. But, the repair shop is not legally allowed to repossess the car unless you signed a notice acknowledging that the car could be subject to repossession. This could be included within the repair contract (in which case it must stand out from the other text of the contract), or it can be part of another agreement. Take a look to see if you signed such a notice, but assuming you did, the repair shop has a right to repossess the car if you default on the repair payments.

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Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP,

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or

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